Monday, January 29, 2018

Side project: getting eyes far away

Last year I became obsessed with FPV. I don't mean games - that's kinda for kids. I'm talking here about getting an object, a plane in this case, equipped with a camera and other equipment that can be controlled from a distance. I was trying to get into the multi-rotor business but that seems not to be my thing. Planes, on the other hand, are. So I tried my luck there...

My first time was... well... exciting wouldn't even begin to cover it! It was a mysterious experience! I was actually in a plane that flies around, hundreds of meters away from me, seeing the real life flashing before my eyes. It was simply a blast! But as soon as I flew the first time and saw the land that I already covered something woke up in me: the nagging question what is out there? I guess I am kind of an explorer down deep inside :) And so I begun to cover more and more ground. It soon was pretty clear for me that the equipment I had at the time with a 200mW VTX was not going to quite cut it. All that was made crystal clear for me once I lost the plane after just several hundred meters flight in the neighborhood. It sucked big time and about 600 PLN was forever lost. Sometimes when I drive around I hope to see this plane hanging out in some tree but that didn't happen.

Someone could say: this is way too expensive and too dangerous - but not me. I came back home, late at night that day, and immediately ordered a stronger VTX (used to ride a 200mW one, now I ordered a 600mW ImmersionRC that people said was good for several kilometers!). It took a while before I was able to get back up in the sky but it eventually happened. With the new VTX, a changed site and a new plane I was rocking the sky again!

Over the course of last summer I didn't loose a plane (well, technically I did but more on that later or). I was flying first 1.3km to a landmark I knew and I was passionate to get to. That didn't work because of the antennas that I had. That day I learned that power is not everything - you need to have something to convey it with. And in the case of video transmission (and also the control transmission from your radio to the plane) antennas are the holy grail! So I went ahead and bought 3 of the most recommended (and most sexy) ones - the Aomway clover leave antennas. Alongside the 600mW VTX I also bought a 14dBi directional patch antenna. Using this setup I was finally able to easily break the 2km range!

But my appetite (and the addiction) grew...

So I started experimenting. First about going further than 2km. It turned out that the 100mW OpenLRS system wasn't all that good at ground leve. - so I built a 2m mast that gave me more range. A few weeks later I tested it up to 4.8km and let me tell you the wiggles that I have had that day were nothing compared to the first time with a woman! I was so fucking stressed out I almost fainted!

All things considered it was a pretty good flight. I used a 3s 3000mAh Li-on pack at that flight and it almost lasted to get the plane home. Just a few tents of meters over a field and the plane was safe and sound in my hands. That meant I needed more power. Lot's of it.

In a situation like that power comes from a combination of input voltage, amps, ESC, motor and propeller. So I started looking for the best combination. Just out of share luck I have had a few od 2212 810kv motors around (from my failed attempt to build a 450-sized quadcopter). I thought, since it had the required max thrust (around 1kg) so why I don't I give it a shot. And so I did!

The first attempt was very promising. At 4S and a 10x4.5 prop it flew great and I was able to finally reach the 5km mark. I turned back to see how the battery will behave on the way but it was plenty left. That encouraged me to give it another shot the next day and... that is how I achieved my up-to-date record of 8.2km out and safely back!

Oh boy was I excited! All my efforts were finally paying off! My dream was to take the plane from the place where I was usually flying back to the place I live - which was about 6.5km away. With the record flight of 8.2km I thought it was a no brainer. Man, was I wrong! It's not just the tx/rx/antennas combination but first and foremost the lay of the land that allows (or not) to get to longer distances. Luckily the day before that I have put my phone number and since the plane automatically landed on a busy street and a good man picked it up and called me the plane was recovered - and my ambition was greatly humbled.

This year I'm trying my luck in the same direction that my record flight of 8.2km was. I am hoping to break through the 20km barrier with some new equipment that I have bought:

  • 500mW Wolfbox TX (with potential to be modded to 1W)
  • 1W VTx and a biquad 11dBi antenna that I tested up to 12km with crystal clear picture on the ground
  • an all new Mini Talon with 4S2P Li-on battery pack

The plan is as follows:

  • First do a maiden of the plane with the minimum electronics to get it to fly
  • Add a flight controller for stabilization and get it to work as expected (F4 AIO FC with OSD)
  • Do a test flight over a 1km distance with the lest powerful antennas I have to check the viability of the video down and control up link
  • Do a endurance test with all equipment to see how long will the battery will last at what speeds - hope to get at least 40km range before the batteries are all dead)
  • Get back to the 5km mark and back
  • Get past the 10km mark and back
  • Get past the 15km mark and get back
  • Get past the 20km mark and get back

I have no idea if this is going to work or not. I truly don't! But I hope one day I'll have a video to show you how the flight went and what emotions it gave me!

Happy flying!

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